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Presidency turn of South despite religion, Akeredolu insists

By Terhemba Daka, Sodiq Omolaoye, Matthew Ogune (Abuja) and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan)
11 August 2022   |   3:58 am
Chairman of the Southern Governors’ Forum and Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, yesterday, insisted that the presidency of Nigeria must come to the South next year not to thwart...

Rotimi Akeredolu. Photo/faceboo/rotimiaketi

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Chairman of the Southern Governors’ Forum and Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, yesterday, insisted that the presidency of Nigeria must come to the South next year not to thwart the power rotation arrangement in the country.

He also condemned the incursion of religion into politics, urging that citizens should not be distracted by religion in making their choices during the 2023 general elections.

Speaking at the one-year remembrance of Prof. Bankole Oke of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Ibadan, while delivering a lecture entitled, ‘Nigeria: The politics of religion in a transitional society,’ Akeredolu said power rotation had been an unwritten agreement in the country since the return to civil rule in 1999, and that arrangement must not be changed now.

He advised Nigerians to make sure that power did not return to the North under what he described as the guise of a party picking a Southerner as its vice presidential candidate.

Recall that the Southern governors had met last year in Delta State in what has been famously tagged ‘Asaba Accord’ to agree to ensure across party lines that the next president after the tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari should be from the Southern part of the country.

Speaking yesterday, the champion of ‘Power Shift’, said: “A party that picked somebody from the North as its presidential candidate is not doing so in the country’s interest. (Peter) Obi has the right to contest because he is from the South.

“We are ready to give it whatever it takes to make sure power returns to the South in 2023. There appears to be an understanding that power must rotate between the North and the South. This understanding witnessed the contest of two candidates from the Southwest for the Presidency. It was part of the unwritten agreement that the power equation must be balanced to allay the fear of domination harboured by the people of the South.

“There is a conscious attempt not to disrupt the extant agreement. There has been a seamless transition from one civilian regime to another since 1999, the longest in the political history of the country.

“The current political permutations raise strong suspicions on an undeclared motive to thwart the arrangement that has been working for the country. The rotation of the office of the President is between the North and the South since the inception of the Fourth Republic.”

Furthermore, the governor warned Nigerians to beware of the tricks of desperate politicians using religion to divide the people. Akeredolu said politicians in the First Republic achieved so much because they were people with huge capacity, and religion was not an issue in determining those elected and appointed into offices but the capacity to deliver.

“The unnecessary lamentation by a section of the political class on the recent choice of the presidential candidate of the ruling party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a Muslim, to pick Senator Kashim Ibrahim Shettima, another Muslim, as his Vice-Presidential candidate, is most regrettable. This choice has generated needless controversies.

“Those who spearhead this apparent mischief either ignore or are oblivious of the fact that the position of the Vice President, as provided in the 1999 Constitution, as amended, is innocuous. The occupier of that office can only act as directed by the President who wields the real executive power. It appears that these protests are symptomatic of the level of distrust among the members of the political class who will do anything to grab power.”

He said Nigerian leaders before the independence laboured hard to wrest power from the colonial masters while urging Nigerians to be optimistic that the country would be great again. However, he admitted that it was taking too long.

He further stressed that Nigeria must be restructured, and state police must be created to address the raging insecurity in the country.

“Religion is currently being deployed, most shamelessly, by the elite to gain an unmerited advantage. The earlier we stopped this dangerous and divisive campaign, the better it will be for everyone. Any war fought to establish the supremacy of faith over others can only end in tears. The manipulative skills of politicians currently put to use will aggravate an already bad situation.

“The solution to the challenges faced in the country will not be found in the faiths of individuals. A person’s religious persuasion is based on personal conviction. It is essentially private. The public space must remain secular.

“Consequently, the current agitations for a faith-based political representation are anchored on a certain misapprehension of the requirements for leadership in a multi-ethnic state such as Nigeria.

“It borders on plain mischief to set the people on themselves to attain political power. Any so-called religious leader, who ignores knowledge and competence as necessary criteria to measure leadership capacity, is an apostate,” he added.

WHILE being assailed by stakeholders within his party, Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong, yesterday, came down hard on Christians opposing his acceptance of the offer to serve as Director General of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Organisation, saying Pope Francis has not told him the decision is wrong.

Lalong spoke to reporters after a closed-door meeting with President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

He said as a Nigerian Catholic with the highest Papal award (Knight of Saint Gregory), he remains a staunch adherent, despite his new job of selling a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket to voters.

He also denied the allegation that he lobbied to become the running mate of the APC presidential candidate in the 2023 elections, Tinubu.

Arguing that he respects his faith as a Christian, Lalong noted, however, that he was elected governor for the entire people, irrespective of their faith, adding that since politics was about interest, he is a bonafide member of the APC and will therefore not engage in anti-party activities.

He said he also wonders where all those who claimed to be Christians and are opposed to his appointment as DG are coming from.

The governor said that he was at the Presidential Villa to thank the President for approving a number of infrastructural projects and for granting a presidential pardon to the former governor of the state, Senator Joshua Dariye, as well as a former governor of Taraba State, Rev. Jolly Nyame, who were convicted for corruption charges.

MEANWHILE, the Nigerian Youth Coalition (NYC) has described Lalong’s appointment as DG of a Muslim-Muslim ticket as a political miscalculation, which may drift the party’s political ship into oblivion.

NYC President, Aare Oladotun Hassan, who stated this yesterday, in Abuja, called on well-meaning lovers of democracy in the APC to see the urgent need to read the minds and body language of Nigerians, particularly of the Christian faith on the appointment of the DG without due and adequate all-inclusive consultations with APC Christian members as a unanimous decision to nominate and choose their best to represent their interest.

Hassan urged the APC to rethink its decision to pacify Christians across the country and if truly the 2023 presidency is a must-win.

According to him, Lalong lacks the capacity to lead Tinubu and Shettima’s ticket to victory in the forthcoming presidential election.

He said: “Governor Lalong is not the best person to be appointed the DG for the APC Presidential Campaign Council, noting his chameleonic antecedence in the build-up to the presidential primary.

“We frowned on whoever recommended Lalong for the position as they do not mean well for both the party and Tinubu/Shettima presidential ticket.

“Regrettably, it was common knowledge that Lalong worked against Tinubu’s presidential ambition during the primary, as he worked for the former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.

“APC should be aware that religion is a serious factor, which must be considered in balancing the political interest due to the sensitivity attached to religion in Nigeria, hence the necessity to reverse itself and put out the search engines of wisdom to choose the best from the APC Christian members.

“Ever since the return of democracy in 1999, the practice has always been either Christian-Muslim or Muslim-Christian presidential ticket and introducing Muslim-Muslim ticket is a strange development that has left Christians mentally aggrieved and assaulted; and they are ready to vent their anger at the polls.”

IN another development, opposition to the emergence of Shettima as Tinubu’s running mate, took a new turn yesterday as a socio-cultural organisation, Middle Belt Congress, appealed to the former governor of Borno State to step down from his role as the vice-presidential candidate of the party.

The organisation noted that the move would potentially save the party from impending electoral misfortune in 2023.

Addressing a press conference in Abuja, the convener of the group, Bilal Abdullahi, said the party’s national acceptance had dwindled following Shettima’s nomination, adding that by picking a Muslim to run with Tinubu, the APC displayed a religious insensitivity to the plurality of the nation.

“The Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC indeed comes with its attendant political baggage. Suppose the APC as a party is desirous of making any meaningful impact in the presidential election, in that case, it behoves the party to retrace its steps in the composition of its presidential ticket.”

Describing Shettima as a friend of the Christian community in Nigeria, Abdullahi said it was disappointing that the former governor went ahead to be a part of a Muslim-Muslim ticket in the face of religious and ethnic tension.

“We are constrained to believe that self-confession of Shettima towards the Christian community might be a ruse as his actions of late does not indicate that of a religiously tolerant individual,” Bilal said.

“It remains morally unjustifiable for Shettima to hold onto the vice presidential slot of the APC because such action has heated the polity in ways too numerous to mention.

“The incomprehensible fact remains that the leadership of the APC is aware of the threats posed to its electoral success with the Muslim-Muslim Ticket, yet, it has remained adamant about the uproar its choice of Muslim-Muslim ticket has elicited in the polity.

“Shettima must, in good conscience, admit that his nomination had indeed brought about ethnic and religious tension in the country, which remains unacceptable in this critical period of our existence where there are concerted efforts at unifying the country along ethnic and religious lines,” the statement added.

“The fact that a Muslim-Muslim ticket cannot unite the country is enough for Shettima to reconsider his vice presidential candidature. And as a former governor who witnessed one of the bloodiest conflicts in Nigeria, he should know better about the cost of conflict in society.”